California legislators are taking action to stop the “silent killer” of extreme heat waves intensified by climate change with a plan to rank heat waves. The announcement was made at the climate conference in Glasgow. Word of the ambitious proposal reached home as Southern Californians weathered a record-breaking November heatwave. 

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will sponsor legislation jointly authored by Assembly Members Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley) and Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) to establish the nation’s first ranking system for heatwaves, a critical step toward preventing heat-related deaths and injuries. Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) will be a principal co-author of the legislation.

Heat waves are responsible for more deaths and injuries than all other extreme weather events, but there has never been a ranking protocol for heat the way there is for storms. The recommendation for a new system was part of a first-of-its-kind report on climate insurance that Lara and the California Climate Insurance Working Group released earlier this year. The new report is aimed at protecting low-income communities, seniors, and those without insurance who are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

California’s latest Climate Assessment projects that heat waves will be more intense, longer, and more frequent in years ahead. From 1980 to 2000, there were an average of 6 annual extreme heat days in Los Angeles. By 2050, that number is predicted to be 22 days. In 2020, emergency room visits increased by 10 times the normal number during record-breaking heat as high as 121 degrees in Los Angeles County. California’s 2021 heat wave broke records across the state, with Sacramento topping out at 109 degrees and the Coachella Valley having its hottest year ever with temperatures reaching 123 degrees. 

Under the proposed legislation, California would develop a publicly accessible ranking system for heat waves with clear categories based on heat intensity and health impacts that would provide early warning to communities and enable public policy makers to craft prevention strategies and risk reduction measures, among other effective responses.  

“Just as we have air quality alerts, categories for tropical hurricanes, and red flag warnings for wildfires, California needs a way to warn our residents about extreme heat waves which will only grow deadlier in the years ahead,” said Lara. “There is no insurance against heat. If we act now to implement a ranking system like we have for other disasters, we can help prevent deaths from this silent killer, especially those most at risk like our seniors.”  

“Expert after expert identified extreme heat as the most dangerous climate disaster risk for vulnerable populations in our recent hearing on this topic. Consider us eager partners in the effort to rank heat waves to protect Californians from heat-related deaths,” said Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) Chair of both the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management and the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

The proposed legislation—which will be formally introduced when the California State Legislature reconvenes for its 2022 session in January—would direct the development of a statewide program to rank heat waves and improve the advance warning that communities receive. The different categories would be accompanied by recommended precautions for the public to take based on the intensity of the heat event, with additional precautions described for vulnerable populations.